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Hall of Fame jockey Solis retires at 53

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Alex Solis

DEL MAR, Calif. – Jockey Alex Solis, who came from his native Panama with a few dollars and a dream and had so much success that he made it to the Hall of Fame, officially announced his retirement on Sunday, seven months after his last mount.
 
Solis made the announcement at Del Mar on TVG. He had not ridden since April but has been a commissioner on the California Horse Racing Board since 2015.
 
Solis, 53, won 5,035 races in North America during his career, which began in his native Panama in 1981 but took off after his arrival in the United States, beginning in 1982 in south Florida. He relocated to Southern California a few years later, and that is where he did the bulk of his riding and had his greatest success, being associated with such top-class runners as Snow Chief and Kona Gold as well as Pleasantly Perfect, Megahertz, and Dare and Go. His mounts earned purses of more than $238 million.
 
He was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2014. He won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1997.
 
Snow Chief is the horse who first made Solis a national star. Solis earned his lone Triple Crown race win aboard Snow Chief, in the Preakness Stakes in 1986, the year Snow Chief was named the champion 3-year-old male after also winning the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, and Jersey Derby. He was trained by Mel Stute.
 
Kona Gold gave Solis his first Breeders’ Cup win in the 2000 Sprint at Churchill Downs. Kona Gold was named the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter that year, the first of two straight years he won the Bing Crosby at Del Mar. He raced in five straight Breeders’ Cups for his trainer, Bruce Headley.
 
Solis won three Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2003 Classic aboard Pleasantly Perfect, whom he also partnered with for a victory in the Dubai World Cup. He also won the 2003 Turf via dead heat aboard Johar, who, like Pleasantly Perfect, was trained by Richard Mandella.
 
Solis won two other races in Dubai, the Golden Shaheen in 2000 and 2004 aboard Big Jag and Our New Recruit.
 
Solis also was the regular rider of the tiny but mighty turf mare Megahertz, who won multiple stakes races, including the 2005 Yellow Ribbon, for trainer Bobby Frankel.
 
One of Solis’s biggest victories came here at Del Mar in the 1996 Pacific Classic, where he ended Cigar’s 16-race win streak by riding Dare and Go to an upset victory, also for Mandella.
 
In addition to the aforementioned stakes, Solis won most of the major races in Southern California, including the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Futurity, Matriarch, Del Mar Debutante, Del Mar Futurity, Del Mar Oaks, Eddie Read, Clement L. Hirsch, Hollywood Turf Cup, Del Mar Handicap, Pat O’Brien, Norfolk, and Strub Stakes.
 
He also won such major national races as the Haskell Invitational, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Meadowlands Cup, and Arkansas Derby.
 
Solis never won the Kentucky Derby but finished second in it three times. He came closest in 1997 with Captain Bodgit, who was outfinished by Silver Charm.
 
Solis is tied with Eddie Delahoussaye as the fourth-leading jockey all time in stakes wins at Del Mar with 95, one behind his idol, Laffit Pincay Jr. His last Del Mar stakes win came in 2009; he won four stakes at that summer’s meet.
 
Some of the best years of Solis’s career came from 1996 through 2006, when his mounts earned at least $10 million in nine out of those 11 years. His best year was 2003 – the year he won two Breeders’ Cup races – when his mounts earned more than $16.3 million.
 
Solis was seriously injured in an accident at Del Mar in the summer of 2004, when he fractured his back and was sidelined for eight months.
 
He won 200 races or more in a single year 11 times, with a career-best 274 in 1996, the year he won the Pacific Classic aboard Dare and Go.
 
Solis’s business declined in Southern California earlier this decade, and he rode out of state before finally returning, but he never had the same level of support. He won 100 races and his runners earned more than $6 million in 2011, but he won fewer than 40 races in each of the last six years, with 10 wins in just 72 mounts in 2016, and he was just 1 for 8 this year.
 
But he had more than made his mark on the sport long before these fallow recent years and was part of a riding colony in Southern California in the late 1980s and 1990s that included such all-time greats as Delahoussaye, Pincay, Chris Antley, Kent Desormeaux, Victor Espinoza, Chris McCarron, Bill Shoemaker, and Gary Stevens. Those were among the Hall of Famers against whom Solis competed every day, and he did so well that he eventually joined them in the Hall of Fame.

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